Take Another Stab at The Lords of Salem (2012)

This post is a part of the Take Another Stab series, where the horror films I hate get a chance at redemption through an open-minded revisit. There will be blood. There will be spoilers.

The divide on Rob Zombie’s films has always been a murky line to me. I think it’s the whole music career thing that makes people see the gray in this black and white situation. Some love any project the man touches, while others give you that reluctant shrug that signals this conversation is headed to an uncomfortable place. I fall in the third and probably most popular group that likes some of his music and some of his films. The Lords of Salem is one of those that I’ve always abhorred since the moment I watched it. In most circumstances, I feel that comparing is a disservice but it’s hard for me to understand the considerable drop in watchability between it and The Devil’s Rejects. Hell, even RZ’s Halloween remakes generates more excitement out of me (and we all know how I feel about Halloween). My issue is TLS has always played out to me like a really long music video. I’ve been a Sumerian Records & Nuclear Blast fan for over 10 years now and no shade, but metal music videos sorta follow the same formula. This film stars a hot tatted chick who starts seeing crazy shit. She’s accompanied by creepy elderly people, skewed pagan and/or Satan stuff, weird sexual innuendos, and depictions of hell. Come on now. It checks all the boxes with bonus points for crosses and goats. The final act especially seals the deal with its plethora of screen-grab worthy stills. I can get past this though. I can blame this on artistic vision and filmmaking style. What I can’t quite sidestep is our protagonist. I’m not an actor. I’ve never been trained nor have I had any grounded interest in it. It’s a tough gig. But I am an audience member and the last time I checked, I am a human being that can comprehend genuine emotion and reaction. A lot of Heidi’s lines give me “read from the cue card” vibes and completely derails the experience for me, particularly in more serious moments. Patricia Quinn, Dee Wallace, and Judy Geeson are absolute show-steelers whenever they’re on screen, but even they weren’t fully immune to cringe lines of dialogue.

Obviously it’s cool that Zombie shot in Salem. There are plenty of recognizable film locations for fans to pay tribute to but all things considered, he could have chosen any small Massachusetts city. As a history lover, it gave me pause to learn that his take on witches was going to be in the negatory. That’s okay. Evil witches in media has and always will be a thing. It’s make-believe, it’s fun! He asked the question, “what if those 1690-something women were actually total whores for Satan?” and ran with it. He didn’t retell the Witch Trials story but instead flipped it on its head. Groovy. My beef is that he excluded men from that narrative when they could have been a part of those Satan worshippers. Instead, he made them the Puritanical victims of dirty, nasty women in the woods. I suppose it isn’t his responsibility to care about history, past or present, but I think perception matters. Look at me harping on about perception in a horror movie. This entire genre is filled with slaughtered women and animals and I’m standing on a soapbox about a place I’m not even from. Maybe I’m just a stickler for facts (notice how I didn’t mention nobody was burned at the stake…fuck, oops.) I could very well be an annoying turbo nerd on the subject. I can roll with that.

I’ve watched The Lords of Salem maybe four times and I’m still tepid on it. Okay okay, I’m chilled on it. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to view it differently this time. Be less of an asshole? Care less? Lower my standards?

About one hour and 41 minutes later

I always forget how much Rob Zombie loves his wife’s ass. It’s endearing at this point. I’m surprised we didn’t see a ghastly cheek in The Munsters, honestly. I don’t know if my viewing was affected by my stark soberness or the late hour in which I started watching (past 7PM? Who am I?) but I wasn’t floating away from my body. I was in it, scrutinizing and scanning those captions to really grasp the story. Heidi LaRoc and her two co-buddies are local late-night DJs that come off as exceedingly normal and approachable. Except for her apartment, which is incredibly designed and the dream of many. After maybe 20-40 minutes, I still didn’t grasp who Heidi really was or why I should be invested in her story. I was told she has a history of addiction and that she’s resistant to start a relationship with her co-worker. But I didn’t know her. Her personality kind of sat on the bench while other elements gave me information about it. Does that make sense? OR was that the point? She’s really closed off on purpose, which made her the perfect victim for the The Lords? But that was already fated, as she’s a descendent of Jonathan Hawthorne. Oh, brain.

I always thought the cursed song bit was cool. A song that ensnares the women lifers of Salem? Hocus Pocus, who? I liked the tone and somberness of the film. It carries a sadness that I didn’t connect with until now. I always enjoy the chemistry between RZ’s regular cast members. You can tell they’ve been friends for a long time and that being around each other is effortless. I think the star of the film is the vinyl. The song isn’t astounding or anything but the curse via media concept is familiar (but not overused) in the genre. It also makes sense for RZ to incorporate music. The music in The Devil’s Reject is a huge part of why I like that flick so much. The day-by-day title cards for the Lords’ plan was a good tactic for me because it prolonged that dread until the very end. And holy shit, a naked Meg Foster is a force to be reckoned with. That woman can haunt your dreams with just her eyes and voice. She was an excellent pick for the big bad. Again, the three modern-day witches were absolute joys to watch and bear such large presences on screen. They convinced me that they were evil as fuck, despite their dispositions.

I wasn’t really convinced by Sheri’s performance of Heidi, however. That’s not to say she didn’t embody her. The idea of Heidi was always right there. Points in the story that were extremely frightening for the character weren’t expressed. I didn’t understand why she wasn’t talking to anybody about what was happening to her. I didn’t understand why she wasn’t reacting like a horror movie character would. Honestly not trying to dig on her acting because I know that’s an easy jab. She kills it as Baby Firefly. She’s so fun to watch in 3 From Hell, when she fully leans into the insanity of that character she’s been with for so long. I think she’s best when she’s a bad, but she’s been a “good” in far too many roles. I wouldn’t consider myself a prude but the talk of cunting-this and folds between legs-that was relentless. I understand, I get it. These witches want that anti-Christ baby bad. But if I’m being true, that’s trademark Zombie. Gritty, overtly sexual talk is key. The finale was still a psycho romp of offensive imagery one can expect in a music video. But was it pretty? Yeah. Was it cool? To most teenagers, yeah. Everyone loves that last shot of Heidi waxing Mary on top of a pile of self-ended women (who weren’t technically self-ended because they were under the influence of, ahhh, fuck it.)

Alright, so I’m not seething with the hate I thought I harbored. I watched this in Salem last year (shout out to my spooky brother from another mother) and I still wasn’t enamored. But after last night, I think I can call myself tepid on the subject of The Lords of Salem. I love that it’s in Salem. I don’t like that it’s in a bad light but hey, I totally get the change in perspective. I like the wickedness of it, despite what I just said. I love the costume designer, Leah Butler. I love the set design of the apartment and the gorgeous theater they shot in. I didn’t dislike any character enough to discard them. I can’t entirely blame an actor when I think they were miscast, can I? I can’t say Dee Wallace was great except when she delivered that one line in that one part without placing some blame with the director, can I? I’ll zip up by saying what some find edgy and cool others find cringe and goofy. That’s the way it goes sometimes. I wouldn’t call this a trash heap by any means now. I’d call it a cake with spotty frosty that’s off-center. Edible and satisfying to many but the baker isn’t going to get any handshakes at the end of the evening. It didn’t feel right to make a witchy pun, so the cake analogy will have to do. (Did you know that during the Witch Trials time period they would made counter-magic piss cakes? OKAY, I’M DONE.)

Until next time, thanks for taking another stab with me

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